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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Ohhh…. (02/04/10)

TITLE: Rising to the Top
By Ann Grover


Wenna shielded her eyes and scanned the sea. She thought she felt tremors from the surging breakers pounding the cliffs, and she shuddered as she dismissed her superstitious musing.

It was a fine day with no cause for gloomy thoughts. Scarcity of food did not discourage Wenna, neither did living in the drafty cottage. Certain facts were cemented into the foundation of Cornwall mining life, and little could be done except bear it.

She wrung out the scrubbed shirt and draped it on the fence, grinning at the sight of Agnes’s backside as the older woman bent over her own dented washtub. Agnes was humming as she rhythmically pummelled the clothing with a washstick.

“Mornin’, Agnes.” Wenna slapped a frayed skirt over the fence and wiped her raw hands on her apron. “Ready for a sit-down? Kettle’s boiling.”

“I’m chacking enough to drink the sea.” She jostled the dirty clothes. “A few minutes’ll loosen the grime on these filthy larrups.” She laughed, her chins bobbing mirthfully. “‘It’s truth, dirt be holdin’ these rags together.” She set the washstick in the tub and rounded the fence.

“Set down. Tea’s comin’ dreckley.”

Agnes eased into a wobbly chair while Wenna poured.

“Sugar? Teacake?” Wenna offered, though no sugar bowl or cake plate graced the table.

“Thank ‘ee.” It was a comforting charade.

“‘Ee’s done a proper job, love.” Agnes indicated the swaybacked bed covered with a thin spread and the smoothly swept dirt floor. Two brown pasties cooled on a chipped plate.

“Giss on!” Wenna blushed at the older woman’s praise.

They drank their weak tea, enjoying each other’s company and the short respite.

“Feel it?” Wenna’s voice quavered.


“Rumblin’s. In the ground.”

“The piskies be foolin’ ‘ee, love.”

“There it be again. I felt somethin’ before, but I thought it was breakers poundin’ the cliffs.”

Agnes frowned as she became aware of the vibration rippling beneath the dirt floor and rolling through the air like faint thunder. Wenna leaped up, toppling her tea mug in her urgency. Gasping raggedly, Agnes followed, maneuvering her bulk through the narrow doorway.

“Ohhh...” Wenna breathed the word, like a gossamer sigh.

Men were swarming around the mine head, shouting and gesturing. Several sprinted toward the cluster of miners’ hovels where Wenna and Agnes stood.

“Wasson?” Agnes asked, hesitantly approaching the nearest man as he stooped over struggling for air.

“Man-engine. Busted.” He gulped. “Everyone in the ‘ole. Tom and Davy, too.”

“Dear Jesus,” moaned Agnes.

“Ohhh...” whispered Wenna again. Agnes didn’t wait; she was running toward the mine where her Tom undoubtedly lay at the bottom of the muddy shaft, alongside Davy, young, strong Davy.

“Rescuers already ‘eaded down the ‘ole.”

Wenna hurtled ahead of Agnes. “God, oh, God, oh, God,” she whimpered in time to her running footsteps.

The rescue team had disappeared down the gaping maw of the mine, and the manager had peeled off his jacket as he waited to be lowered. Survivors, filthy and near naked, were knotted together in stunned bewilderment.

Davy and Tom were not among them.

They were still somewhere below, maybe crushed by tangled wreckage, maybe still breathing noxious air...

The afternoon light dimmed. Wenna and Agnes huddled, arms wreathed around each other, cowering every time a body was drawn out of the black hole, every time sharp keening rent the night as maimed remains were claimed.

After midnight came the announcement that several men were pinned in the chokage, their deadly descent blocked by jammed timbers. Miraculously, they were alive.

“Oh, please...” Wenna’s prayer blended with other murmurings in the velvety darkness. Dare they hope Tom and Davy were among the wedged miners, while others had certainly perished?

Many were still waiting, shivering and waxen-faced, in the slate-gray dawn. Someone brought a pail of steaming tea. Agnes and Wenna drank gratefully.

The timber-trapped miners were lifted from the mine at noon.

A miner with a battered leg explained how Tom’s broken, lifeless body had kept the timber braced tightly against the mine wall. “Tom saved us, ‘e did.”

Agnes crossed herself and murmured a gentle “Oh, God.” Long ago, she’d accepted every miner’s likely fate.

Davy’s smile was startlingly bright in his blackened face. “I held onto the beam, Wenna. I dunno how.”

Wenna clasped Davy’s wounded hands in hers.

“I dunno how. I just dunno...” Davy mumbled again as he fainted.

Like a long, tapered finger, the engine-house chimney pointed skyward.

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This article has been read 818 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Laury Hubrich 02/15/10
I felt like I was right there with the people waiting for word. Very good writing.
Chely Roach02/15/10
You are certainly a master of atmosphere and dialect. I loved the unlikely friendship of Wenna and Agnes shared during their tea ritual. That scene reminded me of one of my favorite novels, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Great pacing and suspense, perfectly bittersweet ending. Incredible writing.
Mona Purvis02/15/10
A page or two out of a most entertaining novel. Very well done, indeed. You set the scene up so well and used the suspense effortlessly.

Ruth Brown02/15/10
Very well done. Mines are so dangerous, you captuered the feelings well.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/15/10
You did a good job describing the tension and emotional roller coaster.
Rachel Phelps02/15/10
Lovely atmosphere and incredible use of dialect. Awesome story.
Virgil Youngblood 02/15/10
A most interesting, well written story. I enjoyed your writing style.
Julie Seeto02/15/10
Superb writing.
I love the last line - ties in well with the title. How many miners have been saved through the prayers of their families, I wonder?
Great story.
Carol Slider 02/16/10
What an amazing story! The details, the characterization, the tension--everything drew me in and held me captivated throughout. Splendid writing, heartbreaking conclusion. Exceptional!
Connie Dixon02/16/10
Masterful writing. Great descriptions and detail. I had to wipe the coal dust off my face when I got done reading. (great job!)
Beth LaBuff 02/17/10
My Great Grandfather was a coalminer... you've certainly brought this to life for me. I enjoyed the Colloquialisms.
Loren T. Lowery02/17/10
So much to like about this piece. The first thing, to me, was the dialect. It sounded authentic and helped create the setting which was wonderfully described - I could picture myself there very easily. Then the characters who one could easily identify with from their chores and reflective thoughts and finally the story line itself as it raced you in breakneck speed to the end.
Kristi Peifer02/17/10
Amazing writing. I knew you had drawn me in when I found myself anxiously holding my hand to my face while reading.
Catrina Bradley 02/17/10
The drama and tension are palpable - I have no fingernails left. It's obvious that care was taken to chose each word, and the dialect is great. And, yes, I think you found the "ohh" factor perfectly. :) SUPER writing!
Margaret Kearley 02/18/10
Congratulations! A placing very well deserved.Brilliant writing
Patricia Turner02/18/10
Ohhh! You nailed the topic completely and drew this reader along breathlessly hoping along with the women for their men to be spared. Great dialect, atmosphere, characterization - wonderful writing! Congratulations!
Catrina Bradley 02/18/10
Told ya! Congrats. :)
Sarah Elisabeth 02/18/10
Whoohoo, congrats on your placing! Wow!
valerie chambers02/22/10
sooo glad you are back as usual an awesome piece of work. you are GIFTED!